The Racket Masters Cometh, But Who Will Be Victorious?
Ahhhh, we are back, back at the Surrey Sports Park for a Racketlon event, no not the cheeky (Guildford) Nandos style that was the 2015 British Championships, but back for a SUPER World Tour event. After the conclusion of the 2014 World Championships, (seemingly) everyone bar Keith, Ray, Duncan, Leone & James, were keen for the SSP to host the 2016 World Championships, but as a compromise we are back for our legacy event, our Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games, the Racket Masters. You have entered in your (20% of a) thousands, Ray Jordan has concocted a schedule to keep everyone happy (to date, no complaints!) and the weather forecaster has delivered the dry, warm conditions (in his forecast, forecasts can go up as well as down). But, what does the event hold? 160 players, with 251 entries across 21 events, singles, doubles, open and age group classes. Perhaps most heartening of all is the strength in the junior classes, with Elite singles players entered in the Boy’s U21sand U16’s events, and certainly the U21s final is sure to showcase the future top players in world Racketlon. So, who is playing who and what should you be on the look out for?
Denmark have never beaten England in an Open Team International match. Jesper Ratzer is the obvious favourite, undefeated in over 2 years the bloke is a phenomenon of a Racketlon player. His main rivals will be Thorsten Deck and Kresten Hougaard. However, Jesper has to get past home junior, Leon Griffiths. World Ranked 418, he is in the A on a wild card after a string of impressive UK Tour performances in the last year. Leon is also a youngster for the big occasion, a double champion in Poland last November, winning U16s World Doubles & Teams Gold, he knows how to hold his nerve. However, he is the world 418, surely Jesper can survive this banana skin? Jesper is an overwhelmingfavourite for this tie, but that is where, we have to use our position as the hosts. Time for every UK Racketlon player not playing at 18:40 on Friday evening to be in Leon’s corner. The Barmy Army have shown even the greatest terrors can be cowed to shivering wrecks with a song or two. He has nothing to lose, so it is time for us to get behind young Leon and who knows maybe his Hereford* moment awaits. In the rest of the draw homes hopes in the Men’s A ride on Keith Lesser and Duncan Stahl as they play Jesper & Kresten Hougaard respectively, whilst Ray Jordan will be hoping to schedule a quarter-final by getting past Thomas Pilak. Duncan Stahl, speaking from his Maltese training base, described it a dream draw, as he has a 3-1 record over Kresten and really fancies his chances. The other tasty first round tie pit U21s entry Marcus Christiansen against Christian Wall. The first round of the Men’s A is from 18:40 on Friday evening, with Quarters on Saturday lunchtime, Semi’s on Saturday evening (20:40) and the final at 14:20 on Sunday.
The Racket Masters Ladies Elite looks like a belting draw, with tasty ties from the get go. The top four seeds MartinaMiebl, Lieselot De Bleeckere, Anna-Klara Ahlmer and Eefie Henkelman steal all the vowels and await in the quarters for those who survive the starting melee. There are a number of home hopefuls in the draw, with King of Rackets Ladies B champion, Lauren Whiteman hoping to see off Therese Malmberg, whilst Jo Shelley and talented first timer Kimberley Hey take on a pair of Germans, Sandra Kutz and Heike Voigt respectively. However, from a home perspective, the tastiest tie pits the two best UK players against each other, Hannah Boden the tenacious youngster from Yorkshire versus Barbara Capper, the pride of the potteries, in a repeat of the 2015 British Championships final. On that occasion, just 2 months ago, Hannah earned her first victory over Barbara, who (in the nicest, friendliest way possible) will be out for revenge. It is bound to be a bracing contest starting at 11:30 on Saturday morning. The Ladies A quarters will be played at Saturday mid-afternoon (14:20) and the semi’s at 20:20, with the final kicking off at 14:00 on Sunday.
Youth & Experience
No less than 3 junior draws and 6 vets draws highlight the age range playing Racketlon, with strong players featuring heavily across these draws. The stand-outs are Leon Griffiths (U16s) and Marcus Christiansen (U21s) who are playing in the Men’s A, but there are numerous players from the UK and abroad featuring across the open singles, particularly the Men’s B and C. In total there are 35 junior entries, which bodes well for the future of the sport. Meanwhile 45 vets entries will compete across 5 singles classes and 1 doubles class. With exceptional depth of knowledge in the games and a tenacity bred from life, the vets are always some of the most intriguing matches, Racketlon at its chess like best, brains replacing youthful vigour.
Best of the Rest
Elsewhere we have 32 draws in both the Men’s B and Men’s C, the Men’s B in particular looks a devastating draw with host of established players all vying for the title. Ed Harvey starts as number 1 seed, but faces a monumentally tough first round match against Dan Busby, whilst the ever friendly Richard Middleton looks to turn Leigh Sands (ourfavourite Aussie) hopes to ashes. Leigh may be less patriotic than usual come Saturday given the frightful hammering the Aussies are taking in sport against the UK at present**. However, I am struggling to give a proper preview to the Men’s B, mainly as it really looks like the Hunger Games meets Racketlon. Don’t believe me? Ping yourself over to Tournament Software to check it out.
The Ladies B features a healthy looking 14 person draw, dominated by the UK. Ladies Doubles team mates and products of the Jesus College Racketlon Club (one of two well developed university clubs in the UK) Ruby Marsden &Ingrida Kerusauskaite square up, whilst yet another match up of the most played UK Racketlon match, Dianne Baker vs. Fiona Sime could occur as these two stalwarts of the UK Tour could progress through for yet another match (and surely will!). However, third seed Katie Barclay will be fancying her chances for a first FIR title.
Before the singles can begin, we have a feast of doubles, the Elite Men’s offering the first of three possible Deck VsRatzer face offs, if the top seeds reach the final. Deck and Ratzer could also lock horns in the Mixed A final, although the pairing known just as “Barnacles”, will be hoping to cause a first round upset for the Ahlmer-Ratzer pairing, whilst just 6 days after Yorkshire Day***, the pairing of Shelley-Busby will be hoping to fly the White Rose high again. The Ladies Doubles see’s many of the Ladies A draw pairing up for battle, full 8 draws in the Elite Women’s and Mixed doubles, whilst 12 pairs make up the Elite Men’s doubles. A further 23 pairs make up the Men’s B doubles (including 3 family pairings, The Majors, the Griffiths and the Kashdan-Browns) lining up in the draw. Finally 8 pairs will fight for the Mixed B doubles title.
* Ameaturs Hereford United famously knocked out top flight Newcastle United out of the 1972 FA Cup, a football competition, one of the greatest upsets in British Sports history.
** England are presently beating Australia 2-1 in The Ashes. A cricket competition between the two nations last 6 weeks, over 5 matches each last 5 days. Proud Australians expected to win this series 5-0, but are in fact could have lost it by the time Leigh walks onto court.
*** Yorkshire is a county in Northern England. They have a celebratory day, the 1st of August when they tell themselves how great they are and harp on about themselves. The White Rose is the symbol of Yorkshire. It should be noted that Yorkshire was defeated by the other great northern county Lancashire in 1485 for the English crown.